Women remain underrepresented in the UK tech industry. But what does that mean for those already there or starting their career?
There are small signs of progress with the topic becoming front-and-centre for some of the sectors’ biggest companies and an increasing number of female founders and directors being highlighted across business and social media. But it remains an industry that could do more – and needs to do more – to attract, welcome, retrain and progress female professionals.
At TLA, we proudly have a female-to-male split that is above the industry average. But we recognise there is a long way to go to achieve true balance across the business – particularly at a senior level. One of the ways we want to do this is to celebrate the women who work at TLA via our blog and social media channels.
We believe their journeys are worth sharing, particularly with women who might be considering a role or career in the tech or marketing industry. That’s why we arranged an all-female, all-TLA roundtable this month to better understand their experiences.
Taking part in the discussion were marketers Rachel Hellon and Amara Molloy; developers Danielle Smith and Shannon Miller; Miki Parr from the data insights team; account managers Amy Smith, Irina Ashakanova and Zoe Hamilton; project manager Emily Abbey; and Kathy Fleming, Laurie Bloor, Alison Eustace and Abigail Hanson from the quality and compliance department. Their time with TLA and, indeed within the tech industry, ranges from a few months to more than a decade.
We started by asking what preconceptions they each held prior to joining the industry. The overriding and unsurprising view was that it was “male-dominated,” with Danielle highlighting that she was one of only five women on her university course out of 200 people.
Likewise, Shannon and Rachel highlighted that they were the first and only women in their department for a year before others joined. Rachel said: “In IT at high school, you would be one of only a few girls in the class. But you don’t get a true read on the industry until you join it.”
Emily had a similar view. But reassuringly added that she “hadn’t appreciated how strongly the industry is now advocating the empowerment of women”. Meanwhile, Miki admitted that preconceptions of male dominance led to concerns over whether she could make her mark in the industry but added that “once I decided it was what I wanted to do, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.”
Dominance may have been the word chosen to encapsulate preconceptions, but it may not be the right word. The numbers undoubtedly show men outnumber women, but as Amara pointed out, “the women at TLA more than hold their own” within the workplace and play an crucial role in the success we achieve.
Female role models in tech
It’s often cited that one of the challenges for the industry is the lack of profile for female business leaders, and therefore role models, for young women about to embark on careers in tech and marketing.
Not everyone in our group could name a female business leader, for example, but among those mentioned were Jacqueline De Rocas of Tech UK (Alison), information commissioner Elizabeth Denham (Kathy) and Thrive Global’s Arianna Huffington (Emily).
It was Miki’s response, however, that offered the most comprehensive example, highlighting the inspiration and legacy of Grace Hopper.
“Grace was born in New York in 1906 and from a young age was interested in how things work. She got her PhD from Yale in Mathematics and was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She popularised the term “debugging” when a moth got stuck in a relay within the computer and she commented on getting the thing out. (Fun fact: You can actually see that moth in a museum in America!)
“She also came up with the computer language COBOL. When she coined the idea, her male counterparts told her it wouldn’t work because “…computers can’t speak English…”. She proved them wrong!
Miki continued: “During WWII, Grace Hopper tried to join the Navy but was rejected because she was too small. But later joined the Navy Reserves and worked her way through the ranks to Rear Admiral.
“She retired from the Navy when she was 60 but was frequently invited to return. She officially stopped all her Naval responsibilities when she was 79, making her the oldest person to ever be in the Navy. She even has a Naval ship named after her – USS Hopper!
She is a true inspiration and one of the reasons I studied Mathematics at university.”
We’ll bring you more insight and, hopefully, inspiration in the next instalment of our women in tech series over the coming weeks. Follow our LinkedIn page for the latest updates.